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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wading Into the Vietnamese-Cajun Crawfish Boil, San Francisco Style

Posted By on Wed, Jun 30, 2010 at 4:14 PM

Raiding the bag at Red Crawfish. - LINDA C./YELP
  • Linda C./Yelp
  • Raiding the bag at Red Crawfish.
Maybe there's nothing more apt for facing down Independence Day than a sprawling, itchy-fingered session at some Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish joint. They're among the most indelibly American of eateries in this most densely hyphenated of societies, the legacy of Vietnamese expats in southern Louisiana. Today in "Eat," SF Weekly food critic Jonathan Kauffman visits the city's two representatives, the Tenderloin's Red Crawfish and SJ Crawfish in the Outer Sunset. The basic setup's the same at both: steaming plastic bags of hot crustaceans awash with butter and fish boil. Which eatery did Kauffman like, and which left him cold? Find out at But before you go immersing yourself in Kauffman, scroll through SFoodie's extended excerpt (after the jump).

Red Crawfish, in the Little Saigon section of the Tenderloin, and the new SJ Crawfish in the Outer Sunset are the city's two Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish houses, a restaurant trend more viral than an OK Go video. Although this culinary mashup sounds improbable, it began in the Vietnamese-American communities along the Gulf Coast, where small restaurants started offering the same Cajun-spiced crawfish boils their white and black neighbors did. In the early part of the last decade, Gulf Coast expats who moved westward to California imported the trend, and now crawfish restaurants have appeared in every sizeable Vietnamese community in the southern and western states. An L-shaped crawdad belt stretches from Seattle (where I first encountered one) to Orlando. The South Bay is particularly crawfish crazed. Two years ago, Metro critic Stett Holbrook counted half a dozen on the Peninsula, and that was before the country's best-known chain, Boiling Crab, set up its sixth branch in San Jose.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow Jonathan Kauffman at @JonKauffman.

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